01/07/2019 | News release | Distributed by Public on 01/07/2019 02:53
BEIRUT (FIBA Asia Champions Cup) - Wael Arakji is back.
There was no surprise that the Saeb Salam Arena was rocking during the first game of the Alfa Lebananese Basketball League in 2019 between Homentemen and Al Riyadi. This was a rematch of the exhilarating Finals series that went the distance for a total of 7 games. Homentemen halted Al-Riyadi's attempt at 5 consecutive league titles dead in it's tracks with a 74-59 win.
This game was also highly anticipated since both teams were currently locked up at the top of the standings with 6-1 records. It is possible that this was going to be a preview of the Finals and the fans were pumped up to see it all unravel.
What made it even more special was that Arakji would be playing this time after an injury kept him from the entire championship round last season.
'It felt great being back on the court after a while,' Arakiji expressed. 'Stepping back in Manaras felt so great, to be honest, and I've missed the fans so much.'
After putting up 17 points in Riyadi's 90-77 eventual win, it seemed like Arakji was making up for the loss time.
December 15, 2018.
237 days had gone by since the last time since Wael Arakji stepped onto the court for Sporting Al Riyadi. He was finally subbed in at the 6:38 mark of the second quarter in Riyadi's game against Atlas Ferzol and got fouled merely 20 seconds later, sending him to the line for two free throws.
Akarji cooly knocked down both attempts for his only two points of the game in just a little over 10 minutes of action. Aside from one more assist and 4 missed field goal attempts, Arakji didn't do much else in the game but the important thing was that he was back in action.
2018 was supposed to be Wael Arakji's big year. Then at 23 years old, he had done more than enough to solidify his status as one of the best players in the FLB League and starred as the lead guard for the defending 4-time champions.
Barely one month into 2018, Arakji then signed a short-term contract with the Beikong Fly Dragons to become the 4th Lebanese player ever to play in the CBA. The 6'4' guard helped the team collect 3 wins in 5 games with superb averages of 16.6 PPG, 4.8 RPG, and 7.2 APG in his temporary stay.
On April 22nd, Riyadi were back in the FLB League semifinals to play Game 1 against Hoops Club in Al Manara Stadium. After playing in just 12 minutes of the game, Arakji fell to the ground and clutched his leg in pain after landing awkwardly on a layup attempt.
The injury was later confirmed to be a ruptured ACL, which would bench the rising superstar for at least 6 months.
Arakji had to sit and watch Riyadi lose in an intense Finals series against Homentemen which went to seven games. Riyadi then failed to defend their FIBA Asia Champions Cup title and finished at 7th place with Arakji watching from afar yet again.
'I [watched the FIBA Asia Champions Cup] for some games,' Arakji said. 'It was hard for me to see my team lose but I believe my team wasn't in their best form and a lot of players were missing.'
Now Arakji is back on the court himself, no longer tormented by being just a spectating supporter. After starting his return in the first 3 games averaging 6.0 points and 3.0 assists, Arakji finally looked like his former self with 17 points, 4 assists, and 3 three-pointers against Homentemen. It was his 10th game scoring at least 17 points in his FLB league career and tied with the highest he's ever scored against Riyadi's fierce rival.
The process in getting back to this point has taken time and patience, but Arakji is now ready to get back to the top.
'[The injury] was very tough on me, but I believe that god has a better plan for me so I stayed faithful and trusted his plan.' Arakji said. 'My love for the game and my family's support has kept me going. My target is to be the best player I can be especially since I'm still in the beginning of my career so I'll keep pushing no matter what.'
The year is young and there's a packed schedule up ahead for Arakji and his teams, whether it's with Riyadi or the national team. Arakji is close to getting back to where he left off and he oozes of confidence that he will be able to achieve his goals.
'I aim to win every championship I participate in and to qualify for the World Cup.'
With the recent win, Riyadi are now alone at the top as league leaders with a 7-1 record. There is more than half of the season left to play, but Riyadi are in good shape to reclaim their title as league champions and maybe even a return to redeem themselves at the FIBA Asia Champions Cup. Whether they will be able to do so will rely a lot on Arakji and how quickly he can get back to his usual self.
Those 237 days away from the court probably felt like an eternity for Wael Arakji and now that he's back, he's going to make it worth the wait.